Slavery in the Bible

I thought since I compared Peter LaBarbera and Stacy Harp with people who were all for slavery (well, I didn’t say that exactly, but something very similar) I just wanted to look at their beloved Bible, the Word of God, to see what Paul had to say, as a mouthpiece of God, about slavery.  I want to write about this because it shows that, for Paul, and if people believe that Paul writes with the hand of God, then God, approves of slavery.  There is a nice little letter, which is so short that it only takes about five minutes to read.  It is Philemon.  Philemon is a slave-owning master.  Onesimus is the slave who is owned by Philemon.  Apparently Onesimus ran away from Philemon and was currently working for Paul.  Paul also converted Onesimus to his religion.  By the way, Onesimus means useful or beneficial–how appropriate for a slave to be named that.  And it was this letter that was used (among other parts of the Bible) to justify slavery.  I would love to hear how Peter LaBarbera and Stacy Harp worm their way out of explaining why slavery is justified in the Bible, but is not justified today, in our "Christian" nation where they would like the word of God to be law.

Here is some of the letter, which Paul writes to Philemon, the slave-owner:

Paul writes to Philemon, calls him his dear friend and co-worker.  Notice too that Paul writes about the ‘church’ in Philemon’s house. Philemon is obviously a follower of Christ.  And obviously Philemon, the Christian, owns slaves:

1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.1:4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God1:5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.

Paul then writes about Onesimus, the slave.  He appears to be working for Paul and Paul wanted to keep him, but thought he still might be useful to his master Philemon:

1:10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.1:11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.1:12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.1:13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.

The word used for useless ‘is a standard term for bad slaves’–NRSV, p. 2248.  So Onesimus was a bad slave for his master Philemon.  But Paul is sending him back to his master.  He wanted to keep him as a slave, but since Onesimus is a slave, his owner must give consent. 

1:15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,1:16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Paul hopes that Onesimus might no longer be a slave owned by Philemon, but Paul does not demand Onesimus’ freedom.  In fact, there is no demand here at all.  Nor does he condemn slavery, which was a normal part of Greco-Roman society.

1:17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.1:18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.1:19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.1:20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.

Paul implies that he will accepted the punishment that Onesimus will receive for being a runaway slave, and will also repay money to Philemon for anything that Onesimus owes.  This could show that Onesimus stole money, or that Onesimus, as a slave, is worth money to his master, and by running away, Philemon lost money.  And the phrase "I say nothing about your owing me even your own self" shows that Paul himself converted Philemon to Christianity. 

1:22 One thing more–prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.

Not only does Paul NOT condemn slavery or Philemon the Christian, the slave owner, but Paul also will visit Philemon.  No doubt slaves will attend on Paul during his visit as they certainly will do to their master Philemon. 

The letter ends in a typical Pauline fashion.

So, there is slavery in the New Testament and it is not condemned.  In fact, Paul sends Onesimus the slave back to his owner! 

There are also many, many citations in the Old Testament and the New.  Here are a few from the New Testament:

6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ;6:6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.6:7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,6:8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.6:9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

or I Tim 6:1-3:

6:1 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.6:2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties.6:3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness,6:4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.

 Partly because of Paul’s letter, the issue of slavery had a long and bloody history in Christianity.  The issues that slavery brought up haunts this country today.  Racism is still alive in this country.  Can we blame the Bible and Paul for that?  Certainly, at least for part of it.  These ‘words of God’ were used to justify slavery.  Look at this quote from Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America:

"[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."

or (found at the same site above):

"The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example." Rev. R. Furman, D.D., Baptist, of South Carolina (19th century)

or:

"The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined."  United States Senator James Henry Hammond (from South Carolina, 1857-1860).

Where did they get these ideas?  It is clear they got them from the Bible, the Word of God.  But slavery as a law was thrown out of this country in the 1860’s, after a long and bloody war.  It was rejected.  Therefore it appears that the Word of God was rejected. 

So when the likes of Peter LaBarbera and Stacy Harp rail on and on about the evils of homosexuality because the bible says so, remember what happened to slavery, despite the fact that it was sanctioned in their very own religious book.  That is, of course, if Peter LaBarbera and Stacy Harp believe that slavery is an evil thing…Let them tell us all why they reject slavery when the Bible obviously doesn’t.  What do they think about our country getting rid of slavery when in fact Paul and others who wrote the New Testament talk about it so much without condemning it (and in fact they supported it)?

One wonders if they can then take the leap and see that all their belly-aching about homosexuals is the same kind of belly-aching that Jefferson Davis had about slaves? Both groups use(d) the Bible to support their views.  However, slavery is no more.  Soon the acceptance of anti-gay rhetoric will be no more.

 

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